With the kicking off of the Winter Meetings we are going to start a new series. It is Monday, and you know what that means: GM Mondays! In this series we are going to play the role of GM and analyze players, positions, etc. We will take an in-depth look at the team and diagnose whether something is a strength or not. If it is a weak area, we will also look at possible ways to improve that part of the team. So, without further adieu, let us kick off our first GM Monday with our catchers!
The Depth Chart
- Yasmani Grandal
- Austin Barnes
- Kyle Farmer
- Will Smith
- Keibert Ruiz
- Connor Wong
The Major Leaguers
As it stands we have 2 catchers that can handle the primary catching duties: Yasmani Grandal and Austin Barnes. Because of this, catcher is a position of strength for us. In essence this means we have two catchers who could be everyday catchers on any roster. While Grandal started the year as our primary catcher, by September, Barnes had taken over. In fact, Barnes did so well he caught every game but two in the postseason.
In only 262 plate appearances Austin Barnes put up a 2.5 fWAR. His triple slash of .289/.408/.486 was great, and his defensive chops were second to none. He has always drawn praise for his athleticism and defense. Despite Barnes performing so well, there is still a question about whether he or Grandal is the primary catcher.
Grandal put up another solid season: 2.5 fWAR and a .247/.308/.459 triple-slash. Many scouts still agree that he is one of the premiere pitch-framers in the majors. His power took a step back (.212 ISO in 2017; .249 in 2016) as well as his walk-rate, but his defense remained top notch. One of the key things to note is Grandal is entering his final season of arbitration. In other words, he has one year left until free agency. Because of this, there are rumors the Dodgers may be shopping him for a trade.
Rival clubs say #Dodgers are willing to trade catcher Yasmani Grandal, who is entering his final season of arbitration eligibility. Grandal started 2 games in postseason; Austin Barnes started the other 13. @MLB @MLBNetwork
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) November 30, 2017
Unfortunately, not many teams have a need at catcher, so a trade is unlikely. What does this mean for 2018? Unless the Dodgers trade Grandal, it will probably come down to Spring Training performance. Most likely Grandal will have every opportunity to retain his position as #1 on the depth chart. Barnes has the versatility to play more positions than catcher, so he may find himself playing elsewhere at times. I think that most of the catching duties will fall to Grandal if he performs well in Spring Training, but don’t expect him to catch more than 120 games. A majority of the remaining games will fall to Austin Barnes, though his ability to play the infield will also be utilized.
As for our backup catcher, Kyle Farmer is going to fill that role when Austin Barnes is not. He has always had a solid minor league track record and can play some third and second base as well. Making contact has never been an issue for Farmer, as evidenced by his .297/.350/.439 triple-slash in the Minors. Despite only 20 plate appearances in the Majors he still hit .300 and found himself a spot on the playoff roster. Expect him to start at AAA in 2018, but he will certainly shuttle back and forth between OKC and LA.
As with the depth at the Major League level, the Dodgers have one of the deepest prospect pools for catchers. It all starts with Will Smith, the catcher out of Louisville. Smith has drawn comparisons to Austin Barnes for his athletic ability to play multiple positions. When he was drafted out of Louisville he wasn’t expected to hit much. And, through his first 128 games he slashed .238/.357/.393. But, at the Arizona Fall League this year he hit an impressive .371/.452/.565. His calling card will never be his bat, but rather his catching ability and versatility. We won’t expect him to contribute any earlier than 2019, but he will likely make it to AAA in 2018.
Continuing in the tradition of drafting athletic catchers, the Dodgers selected Connor Wong out of the University of Houston. This third round pick in 2017 had a solid showing in his debut this year. Like Will Smith, he displays great athletic and defensive versatility. Slashing .278/.336/.495 at A-ball, one could expect him to climb significantly in the Dodgers’ prospect rankings in 2018.
However, the most exciting prospect of the bunch is 19-year old Keibert Ruiz. When you hit .330/.372/.461 in your first 201 games in the minors, it tends to raise eyebrows. The combination of his young age, contact skills, and his defense makes him the premiere catching prospect in our system. With other top prospect catchers like Francisco Mejia and Chance Sisco moving to the Majors, Ruiz will soon be the top catching prospect in all of baseball. Certainly he will be featured on many top 100 prospect lists in 2018. Despite this, he is still about 3 years away from contributing. But if he continues to plug away like he is now, he could find himself in the Majors by 2020.
Rarely have the Dodgers had such a bright future at the dish. The Boys and Blue have featured numerous great catchers – Piazza, Campanella, Yeager. But right now we truly have some special talent behind the plate. Our present is secure in the hands of Grandal and Barnes, and the future looks special with some amazing prospects coming through the pipeline.
Final Verdict: Catcher is one of our greatest strengths!
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